When America invaded both Iraq and Afghanistan, critics of President George Bush insisted that Muslim countries were not ready for democracy and he would fail. 

Were they right? Does Islam only lend itself to dictatorships?

The record in the past hundred years is not good. What was once a cradle of scientific thought hasn't produced anything meaningful since the new fundamentalism took hold. But sociologists say Muslims may be ready than western liberals think.   

"One of the key markers for a successful liberal democracy is a high degree of social tolerance," says Robert Andersen of the University of Toronto. "We wanted to see the extent to which this existed in countries with a majority of Muslims compared to Western countries."  

They used the World Values Survey – a global project that catalogs people's expressed values and beliefs, how they change over time and what social and political impact they have. They compared levels of racial, immigrant and religious tolerance by age, gender, education level, religiosity, economic development, economic inequality and other factors in Muslim-majority and Western countries. 


Surveys are rarely meaningful outside black and white decisions, like who will you vote for in an election. When it comes to values and tolerance, few claim to be intolerant. But even on surveys, people living in Muslim-majority countries are less tolerant than people living in the West. No shock there, infidelity and being gay will get you stoned. Not wearing a hijjab will get people yelling at women in all of the mid-east except Turkey. 

Their study also found that:

  • the most socially tolerant category of people are non-practicing Muslims living in Western countries. 
  • in Muslim-majority countries, there is no difference between Christians and Muslims in terms of their level of social tolerance.
  • in at least one Western country – France – Christians are less tolerant than Muslims are.

"Our findings suggest that, in Muslim-majority countries, the nature of socio-economic conditions and political regimes supports a relatively high level of social intolerance. Taking these factors into account, Islam still has a significant effect on intolerance in Muslim-majority countries, but that is largely because state and religion are so tightly intertwined," said fellow sociologist Robert Brym.

Article: "Assessing Variation in Tolerance in 23 Muslim-Majority and Western Countries," Canadian Review of Sociology. Source: University of Toronto